Former Connellsville councilman’s foresight led to happier trails
The thousands of people who hike and bike along the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail through Connellsville and the hundreds of local residents who enjoy visiting Yough River Park owe thanks to the foresight of Dave Tremba, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 79.
In the early 1980s, Yough River Park was nothing more than a tangle of brush and trash. A member of the Youghiogheny Fishermen’s Association — and a local contractor — Tremba decided it was the perfect place to clean up for public use. So he used heavy equipment and did what he said he would do, and people came there.
Tom Duncan, who served as Connellsville’s mayor for three terms — the first from 1985 to 1989, the other two during the 1990s — fondly remembered Tremba in an interview Wednesday.
During one 1990s campaign, Tremba ran against Duncan for mayor to no avail. “But he was a gentleman and we got along and became good friends,” Duncan remembered. “How often do you see that in politics today?”
Duncan credited Tremba and the late Bill Hughes, who served on city council and as city clerk, for having the foresight to suggest the city purchase the land where the Martin’s Grocery Store plaza is now located.
“We purchased the land while I was mayor. Dave and Bill saw its potential,” Duncan said.
Yough River Park, roughed out by Tremba’s efforts, was upgraded during Duncan’s administration.
Tremba also served a term as city councilman.
“I talked to him about a month ago when he was ill,” Duncan said. “I am sad. Dave Tremba was good for the Connellsville community.”
Tremba’s goal to have a bike trail along abandoned railroad tracks between Ohiopyle State Park and Connellsville was inspired by inspiration — and desperation. He had been hired as director of Connellsville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1987, which needed more active members. He met a brick wall. Times were tough and businesses weren’t biting, so he took a leap of faith.
Ohiopyle State Park had constructed a bike trail to Confluence, Somerset County, and it had gained popularity. Tremba saw potential in extending from Ohiopyle northward to Connellsville. He approached Larry Adams, who was then park superintendent, with the idea.
“We had the (abandoned railroad) paths in place, why not use them for a bike trail to the city? It was a positive thing that might attract businesses,” Tremba said in a June 2013 interview — the month the Great Allegheny Passage opened.
It took 25 years, but the GAP now runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., where it links with the C&O Canal Towpath Trail — which is open all the way to Washington, D.C.
The path’s construction between Ohiopyle and Connellsville was funded through state funds and cash from the former America’s Industrial Heritage Project, thanks to the efforts of then-state Rep. Rich Kasunic, then-state Sen. Bill Lincoln, Fayette County commissioners, and the late U.S. Congressman John Murtha. In July 1995, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Yough River Park. Connellsville Redevelopment Authority former director, the late Ralph Wombacker, was instrumental in assisting Tremba with the trail’s planning as well.
“Dave Tremba was a friend and kind and community-oriented,” said Kasunic, who retired recently as a state senator. “The trail was his dream. He dogged for it and dogged for it and his dream finally came true. When I think of the Great Allegheny Passage trail, I will always think of him. At the time it was being constructed, the morale of Connellsville was at its lowest for decades. The coal mines and steel mills had closed (as well as other local industries). His idea sparked the city’s current revitalization.”
“We were very fortunate to have Dave Tremba in our community — especially because of his work bringing the bike trail to town,” echoed James Wagner, who served as mayor in the early 1980s.
Ted Kovall, president since 2006 of the volunteer Yough River Trail Council — which maintains more than 25 miles of the trail — had met Tremba only a few times but had respect for him. “He was a big part of us. He was a good guy.”
Michael Edwards, current director of the redevelopment authority and president of Fayette County Cultural Trust, didn’t know Tremba well but praised his vision. “His efforts will have long-lasting effects. Thanks to the bike trail, Connellsville is seeing great things happen.”
Among the positive things, Edwards added, are development of the Connellsville Canteen and its activities, development of the Aaron’s building by entrepreneur Tuffy Shallenberger — and several soon-to-be-opening new businesses, like The Bicycle Bistro, Dr. McCarthy’s Kitchen, a frozen yogurt business and The Coke Oven Grill — all located near the bike trail. “Also, the Cobblestone Hotel,” said Edwards, as soon as all paperwork is finished.
Tremba’s daughter Patty Firestone was holding her Dad’s hand shortly before he passed away.
“I told him, I know what you did for Connellsville and I’m proud of you,” she said. “The city has benefited from your hard work. Every time I use the bike trail I’ll be thinking of you.”
She said one of his happiest days was when in 2013 then-Senator Kasunic presented her father with a certificate of honor for his efforts to the city. “It was one of his proudest days. He finally got some long overdue recognition. We all love him and will always miss him.”
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.